The Honorary Hobbit

Chapter 23

Small Steps

A log shifted causing a flurry of sparks to briefly illuminate the room. Aragorn's eyes slowly slipped open and he gasped as a fiery pain assaulted the flesh on his back. Almost instantly Gandalf moved into his field of vision. "How are you feeling, my boy?" The Istari whispered, pulling a chair closer to the bedside and taking up a cloth resting in a nearby bowl of water. He wrung the cloth over the bowl and pressed it to Aragorn's forehead before moving to the man's throat and chest. Aragorn sighed in relief.

Aragorn smirked, it had been many, many years since he had been a "boy" but by Gandalf's point of view he imagined everyone was considered young. "I…" he began, huskily and tried to clear his throat. Gandalf slowly tilted his head up and pressed a cup to his lips. Aragorn drank thirstily; it tasted wonderful and he tried to reach up to take the cup but his arms barely moved before falling back to the coverlet.

"I will do the dispensing, my friend, you have only to swallow."

Many moments later Aragorn's head fell back to the pillow and he sighed. "I am hot," he said simply. "Couldn't we remove some of the covers, Gandalf?" he asked pushing them away.

"You are only covered by one comforter, Aragorn, so no, we cannot," Gandalf replied.

"My back…it feels as if it's on fire," Aragorn said, giving his torso an experimental stretch, and gasped.

"Let that be a lesson to you," Gandalf said with a small smile.

Aragorn paled and broke out in a sweat, "What has happened?" he groaned.

"Your bed sores became infected, my boy. They have you lying on two wrapped boards which straddle the sores on your spine. You are badly abraded, I'm afraid," Gandalf said.

Aragorn knew what 'abraded' entailed, "An aggressive infection then," he mused. He swallowed thickly, "will they be continuing the treatments?" he asked through gritted teeth.

Gandalf looked down at his boots, "Elrond is taking a 'wait and see' attitude. If your fever goes down he will take it as a good sign and continued scouring should be unnecessary," he said softly.

Aragorn grimaced then his eyes sprang open, "What of Frodo?" he asked.

"He is resting," Gandalf said carefully.

Aragorn gave him a frown, "And? What is his condition? I am no child, Gandalf, please tell me everything."

"You do not need to be worrying about Frodo. You need to focus all of your energies on healing yourself, for now," Gandalf said sternly.

Aragorn glared at him until finally Gandalf rolled his eyes, blew out a breath and threw up his hands in defeat, "Oh very well, but I only do so because I know you will barrage anyone and everyone who walks through that door with questions. Will you concede that once I have told you everything that you will eat a light luncheon and drink some juice followed by a nice, long nap?"

Aragorn ground his teeth together hating the patronizing tone and being treated like an invalid, "I will," he bit out, noticing that Gandalf's eyes held a spark of mirth as he read the Ranger's mind through the man's facial expressions.

He moved the chair aside and Aragorn realized then that the wizard had been blocking him from seeing Frodo. He gasped, seeing the pale, shrunken form lying a few feet away. "What happened? Why is he so pale? Gandalf, his shoulder is bleeding through the bandages. Was he attacked?" The questions flew the Ranger's eyes were wide as he struggled to rise from the bed.

Gandalf calmly pushed Aragorn back down to his pillows, "You remember nothing?" he asked quietly.

Aragorn closed his eyes going back to his last memories. He remembered raised voices and seeing elves rushing about. Someone was bleeding as most of the linens they carried appeared to be drenched in blood. Then he was shouting at his father as he struggled to rise. That was all, he had thought it a bad dream, *wished* it was a bad dream, now that he knew the alternative. He turned to Gandalf and quickly recounted what he remembered.

"No doubt your fever has erased most of what happened." The wizard sighed, pulling out his pipe. He cleared his voice and began the telling of Frodo's ill-conceived journey across the room. Aragorn listened, incredulous, frequently looking over at his friend to watch the slow rise of his chest and unconsciously counting Frodo's breaths.

"Why would he do something so foolish?" Aragorn interrupted.

Gandalf gave him a small smile and coughed on a puff of smoke before placing his hand on Aragorn's shoulder, "An odd question considering you would have done the same thing, dear boy. Nonetheless, his actions were because he saw that you were in distress and the healers had temporarily left the room. Frodo has always been impatient and impulsive," he murmured to himself. "He heard you moan and saw how much pain you were in, at least knowing how Frodo thinks, this is what I believe happened. Frodo has never been one to think of his own needs over another and in true Baggin's fashion, took it upon himself to go to your bedside to comfort you."

Tears sprang to Aragorn's eyes and he turned his face away for a moment. Gandalf sat back then looked up at the ornate ceiling and blew a gust of smoke shaped into a flock of gulls flying on a brisk wind in order to give his friend a moment to compose himself. When Aragorn turned back his eyes were red. He looked over at Frodo, amazed anew at the stubborn selflessness of this slight being.

"He has a pure heart," Gandalf said as he too gazed at Frodo's unconscious form. "Let us hope it remains so," he continued under his breath.

Aragorn heard the last and swore that even if he had to do hand to hand combat with Sauron himself he would make it his mission that Frodo retain his natural lightheartedness. "Tell me his condition," Aragorn said assuming his practical healer mode.

"His injuries are grave, but not so much so as to prevent him from a full recovery, if he will but behave himself," Gandalf said with a long suffering sigh.

Aragorn smirked,"And what are the odds of that, my friend?"

Gandalf's eyes twinkled, "Not good!" he exclaimed. He became more serious, "He tore open his shoulder wound and lost a goodly amount of blood. Until that volume has been replaced by broths and other liquids, in addition to his own body's rebuilding what he has lost, he will be unable to make any more *journey's*," he smiled at Aragorn who continued to stare at Frodo in concern. "That at least is a good thing."

The door opened quietly as Deara slipped in with a small tray. The aroma of broth filled the sick room. Aragorn also spied a fluted flask, undoubtedly one of Elrond's 'nourishing tonics' and a tall glass of what appeared to be carrot juice. She set the tray on the side table and pulled back Frodo's blankets. The hobbit lay unmoving; an alabaster figurine on the white sheets. Pillows supported the left shoulder which was heavily bandaged, a small spot of red on the linen gauze, the only color in the otherwise blank landscape.

Someone was speaking to Aragorn but he ignored them and eventually they quieted. His attention was totally focused on Deara and her patient. Deara motioned to an assistant and the two of them began to slowly raise Frodo's shoulders allowing Deara to slip into position behind him. Aragorn tensed for what was surely to come. Frodo's eyes flew open in a gasp, he cried out in pain and Deara whispered reassuringly to him while he squeezed his eyes shut, biting down hard on his lip. If possible he blanched even whiter. He arched his head back and Aragorn could see the delicate blue vessels under the skin and the fluttering pulse point on his neck. The Ranger raised his head further from the pillow and made to call out to the healer but was stayed by a hand being softly placed on his shoulder. He glanced up into Gandalf's damp eyes. He relaxed slightly as Frodo sagged, boneless, against Deara, the shoulder lay propped up by a taller stack of pillows so that it was even with his body. The spot of blood had grown in size by twice. Frodo gazed down unseeing, into his lap, breathing in small pants. Deara murmured something to him and Aragorn saw a single tear break free from the left eye and trail unheeded down his cheek. She tipped his head back against her shoulder, bringing a small spoon of soup to his lips. He swallowed slowly, dutifully. After the soup was gone, the cordial was brought to his lips, again there was no reaction to the taste which caused Aragorn to frown. Battles with Frodo over medication and tonics were legendary, Aragorn had scars to prove how heated they could become (his from a shard of thrown glass). This Frodo sagged quiescent, uncaring about anything he imbibed as if it was merely a duty to be endured.

The carrot juice was next and finally Aragorn saw a glimmer of interest as Frodo slowly sipped from the glass until it was empty. Finally a glass of water completed the meal. Frodo looked anxiously up at Deara knowing he would be shortly lowered back down, having to endure the excruciating pain once more. Deara whispered something to him and he smiled wanly with a sigh of relief. She finger combed his curls slowly, humming under her breath as his eyes slowly closed. Once his breathing deepened she motioned to her assistant and they slowly maneuvered their charge back onto his pillows. Although Frodo's eyebrows drew together, he seemed relatively oblivious to the pain and sighed deeply once ensconced into his nest. Deara quickly removed his nappy and the blankets from his lower body and began to wash him, drying and covering him as she moved up towards his neck and shoulders. A new nappy was affixed and he was covered warmly. She retrieved a clean flannel, washed his face, ears, and upper torso. His arms and hands were washed last before he was covered completely.

Finally, she moved to Frodo's left side, carrying a basin with a multitude of bandages and creams along with a pair of scissors. She washed her hands thoroughly then the elf assistant blotted her hands with a pure white towel. Aragorn's view was blocked by the assistant and he moved slightly to observe Deara's actions. Gandalf cleared his throat and Deara looked up at him, blushed before motioning the assistant to move slightly to the left. Aragorn smiled as he lay back down onto his pillow, his gaze still fixed on his friend. Gandalf's hand had remained on Aragorn's shoulder and he gave the ranger's shoulder a squeeze. The assistant stood to the side holding a tray and Deara quickly cut away the bandages, placing them on this tray. Finally the wound was exposed fully and Aragorn could see the carefully placed line of Elrond's sutures. Blood oozed between them and he frowned in concern.

"When were the stitches placed?" he asked quietly, breaking the long silence in the room. All turned to look at him, startled by words being spoken after complete silence had surrounded them for so long.

"Almost two days and one night has passed," Deara said with a look of concern.

"Why is the wound still bleeding?" Aragorn pressed.

"We do not know, perhaps a nick in an artery. Treating a morgul wound is an unknown thing to us and has proven radically different from any other wound we have treated thus far. The wound bleeds more than most wounds, for one thing. It is as if the blade had been treated with something that has interfered with the clotting of the blood. You remember when Lord Elrond first saw the Ringbearer and began working on him?" Aragorn nodded. "I remember how the bleeding was excessive for such a small stabbing and how our Lord worked so feverishly to staunch the wound," her eyes became distant with memory. Lord Elrond has examined the incision, even reopening it thinking one of his stitches had broken, but all is as it should be."

Aragorn frowned, "Morgul wounds are generally always deadly or they have always been so, until Frodo somehow managed to survived after seventeen days—an unheard of event." Aragorn shook his head, still amazed at the fortitude of the seemingly frail hobbit.

Deara turned back to her work. She cleaned the wound thoroughly, washing the blood from the shoulder and arm. She applied a thick blob of creamy ointment to the wound then placed a thick square of gauze over the top. Then she wound the wound in roll after roll of gauze going around the shoulder before securing it in place with a knot. She folded a square of muslin and tied it around Frodo's neck, placing the arm within the cradle of the sling. She placed two fingers under the edge of the wound wrappings checking that the bandages were not too tight. She rose, washed her hands while the elf saw to the disposal of the bloody bandages. Deara gathered her supplies, checked Frodo's breathing and pulse and flashed a smile towards Aragorn and Gandalf before exiting the room.

Aragorn grasped Gandalf's forearm and looked up into his face, "Gandalf, I need to examine him," Aragorn," urged. He attempted to rise but his arms betrayed him and he crumpled back onto his pillow.

"Easy, my friend," the wizard murmured. Gandalf studied the perspiring face of his ranger friend and raised an eyebrow, "My dear boy, Frodo is receiving the very best of care and you are far too weak to see him now. I will speak with Elrond on your behalf if you will remain in bed and continue to heal he may find a way for you to visit with him," Aragorn rolled his eyes but nodded in agreement. "Regain your own strength first, Aragorn. You will be no use to Frodo if you are physically impaired. You know I speak true, my friend."

"If I were in your position I would say the same, yet it is so difficult not to go to him and help in any way possible," Aragorn said in frustration.

"I understand better than you know, Aragorn," the wizard said sadly, "but Frodo would not have you further risk your recovery to see to his health."

"Frodo would deny being hurt even if his arm was missing, Gandalf," Aragorn snorted. They were interrupted by a servant bearing a large tray.

Gandalf grinned at him, "You have been in the lad's company for such a short time and yet you know him only too well, it seems. You must recover so that he will *allow* you to treat him. If he thinks you are neglecting your own health to help him, he will fight you. Your luncheon has arrived, let's see how much of it you can eat, shall we?" Gandalf took the tray and placed it on the bedside table. He helped Aragorn slowly sit up, placing pillows behind him, so he could eat. Gandalf removed the covers and set the tray in front of Aragorn.

"This looks wonderful," Aragorn said. In truth, he wasn't that hungry but knowing he needed to regain his strength so he could help care for Frodo, encouraged him to eat. Gandalf eyed him as if reading his mind.

"Let's see, you have scrambled eggs with buttered toast, oatmeal with cinnamon and diced apples, and a tall glass of Frodo's favorite carrot juice. Not enough food for a hobbit but…"

"More than enough for a recovering ranger's first meal," Aragorn finished with a small smile. Gandalf smiled at him as he sat down and fed each entre to his patient. Aragorn had to admit that the food tasted delicious, although he was unable to eat all of it. Gandalf began cleaning up the dishes, placing them back on the tray and replacing the covers. He lowered Aragorn back down onto his pillows and pulled up the covers. "Gandalf, would you have Elrond hang one of the pull up bars over my bed for me, please? I would like to start trying to regain my strength."

"Of course, Aragorn, but Merry and Pippin have also volunteered to help in your physical therapy," the wizard said with a chuckle.

Aragorn grinned, "This should be interesting," he said laughing.

"Indeed, for now however, rest. We will talk later," Gandalf crossed to Frodo placing his hand on the tousled curls before lowering the wick and exiting the room.

TBC